January 30, 2023

CIM lauds student successes at Sphinx, Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competitions

Headshots of violinists Alexandra Switala and Zachary Brandon
Alexandra Switala, left, won second prize at the 2023 Sphinx Competition. Zachary Brandon, right, earned an honorable mention at the 2023 Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition.

The Cleveland Institute of Music is especially proud of its community after strong showings by current and former CIM students at two of the nation's highest-profile string competitions in late January.  

Alexandra Switala (2018-20, I. Kaler) took second prize in the Senior Division at the 2023 Sphinx Competition, held in Detroit, Mich., while professional studies student Zachary Brandon (Laredo/Rose/Sloman) earned honorable mention at the Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition, in Boca Raton, Fla.  

Both events rank among the most important instrumental competitions in the U.S. The Sphinx Competition in particular is notable for recognizing young Black and Latinx artists, whose cultures have long been underrepresented in classical music.  

“We would have hailed Allie and Zach as victors no matter what the juries decided,” said CIM President and CEO Paul Hogle. “It is no small feat to make it to the final round of a major competition. By doing so, Allie and Zach have embodied the CIM standard of excellence and proved that CIM is the future of classical music.”  

Switala, currently a member of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, began her musical studies at age four in her native Texas and moved to Chicago in 2010 to study with Roland and Almita Vamos. She made her solo debut with the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra at age 13 and went on to appear with numerous ensembles, including The Cleveland Orchestra. In 2011, she won the Junior Division of the Sphinx Competition and took second prize at the Thomas & Evon Cooper International Competition.  

At Sphinx in 2023, Switala performed the first movement of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Concerto for Violin in G Minor, Op. 80 with the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kalena Bovell. Her second prize award was $20,000.  

Brandon is a current professional studies student at CIM, where he studies with Jaime Laredo and Stephen Rose. He has performed with several orchestras, including those of Toledo, Kalamazoo, Fort Wayne, Lansing and Battle Creek. He also has flourished at other contests, earning prizes at the Cooper, Stradivarius and Stulberg Competitions, and has taught at the Colburn Community School in Los Angeles.  

At the Oliveira International Violin Competition, Brandon performed the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor with the Lynn Philharmonia, under Guillermo Figueroa. His honorable mention entailed a cash prize of $5,000 from the family of Gerald and Barbara Arbetter and The Goldberg Foundation.